By Esther Paniagua
Editor’s Note: This profile was originally published in Technology Review en español in a series featuring the winners of Mexico’s first TR35 Awards. The awards are given to the top ten innovators and entrepreneurs under the age of 35 as chosen by a panel of judges. For more information on TR35 Mexico, click here.
How can citizens use technology to change society? This is the question that [Endeavor Entrepreneur] Jorge Soto, an electronics engineer from the Instituto Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico has been asking since 2009 when he created his first open data project for citizen participation: Cuidemoselvoto.org.
Thanks to this election-monitoring tool, citizens and nongovernmental organizations could be informed about electoral fraud through Twitter, text messages and emails during a given year’s elections. “We received nearly 11,000 reports and 200 of them proceeded to court,” said Soto, in who also studied business administration at Columbia Business School.
Cuidemoselvoto.org was followed by Internetnecesario.org, which was created by Soto and other colleagues following an additional 3% Internet-usage tax proposed by the Mexican government in late 2009. “There was a lot of criticism and so we launched the site to channel this by monitoring the actions it caused,” he said. Among other things, the system turned Twitter activity into an email for members of Congress. As a result, part of the Internetnecesario.org creative team was invited to present its position during discussion of the tax in the Senate.
Not content with this, Soto launched the company Citivox in 2010. Although he has continued to promote new initiatives, today this is his flagship project. The goal, according to Soto, is “to help citizens, civil society organizations and governments and institutions to work together to improve their communities.”
According to the engineer, the idea behind Citivox is that “Governments today, to have more power, don’t need more control, more weapons or control over the press, but rather greater legitimacy.” For citizens, Soto explains, Citivox is a technological tool with which they can “identify and share information about community problems,” while for leaders it is a service and technology platform to “understand, manage and analyze these reports and meet real needs.”
The system’s model rests on four pillars. The first is the report or complaints from citizens through mobile technology. The second is the government’s management, which starts and allocates resources. The result of this, through maps, graphs and statistics that are generated, enables measurement. Finally, there is communication and publication of data for tracking complaints.
All this is made possible by software based on a mobile platform that brings together individual stories and analyzes real-time information in order to identify patterns, trends and correlations. So Citivox “actually reflects what is and is not a structural problem,” said Soto. “Every citizen becomes a sensor and governments and institutions are able to evolve while making informed decisions in real-time, managing their resources better,” he added. This is empowering, as “both citizens and governments” can carry out their work in a “more effective and efficient manner.”
Soto notes that “being a simple and easy to use technology, it’s highly scalable and replicable.” Not surprisingly, the team already has Citivox projects in six countries. “It’s a great opportunity to rejuvenate governments and institutions by using networks rather than hierarchies,” he said.
According to Carlos Viniegra, director of the Digital Government Unit at the Ministry of Public Administration in Mexico City and a member of TR35 Mexico awards jury, the impact that Citivox’s activities have generated are already very visible in the Mexican environment and even internationally. In addition, their business “relates to new type of organization that beneficially integrates social, environmental and business” and “certainly is a good example of an innovative advance in technology to build a type of relationship with society and also one that builds new organizations for the country, “concluded Viniegra.